It’s Not Only OK for Activists to Wave the Mexican Flag at Protests—It’s Necessary

It’s now four days since Donald Trump spewed his bile at the Orange County Fairgrounds—you know, where he led a bunch of Know Nothings in a chant of “Build the wall!” told a historically dubious tale about imperialistic generals dipping bullets in pig’s blood, and outright lied about how many people attended. Yet all the chattering classes want to talk about is the desmadre that happened afterward, in which protestors destroyed five squad cars, line-danced, threw rocks, punched out a Trump supporter…and waved the Mexican flag.

Ah, the Tricolor: is there any flag more loathed in the United States? Wave the Stars and Bars, and conservatives will step up to defend their Rebel friends and ancestors while citing heritage and honor—never mind the whole, you know, Confederacy constituting a foreign, terrorist, secessionist country. But unfurl a couple dozen Mexican flags during a rally, as what happened during the Trump protest or at May Day marches or at essentially any action invoking immigrants rights, and not only do conservatives cry treason, a good chunk of Latino liberals decry radical youth as setting back la causa by being so damn….well, Mexican.

I should know: I used to be one of those vendidos. Back in 1994, while a sophomore at Anaheim High School, there was a thousands-strong march protesting Proposition 187 that crossed through the intersection of Harbor Boulevard and Orangethorpe Avenue in Fullerton. News cameras captured a middle-aged African-American man asking protestors to wave the American flag instead, only to be met with jeers; the man told KCAL-TV Channel 9 he initially supported the youngsters, but now would vote for 187 after his encounter with them.

I remember wincing at that remark, especially after Prop. 187 won big. But that was 22 years ago, and the truth bore out: while 187 marked a big battle won for the GOP, it infamously lost the Alta California War forever, and reignited a Chicano identity that was Hispandering its way toward oblivion. And after covering the immigrant-rights movement for a decade, not only do I smile when I see kids who don’t speak any Spanish and would rather bump Drake than Chente parading around with the Mexican flag, I cheer them on wholeheartedly.

Waving the Mexican flag isn’t just a shout-out to their ethnic heritage; it’s a blatant reminder of the failings of this country toward comprehensive immigration reform. Because if there’s anyone to blame for the Mexican-flag flap, it’s conservatives. As I’ve been saying for over a decade, Mexicans assimilate into America, yet many Americans don’t want to believe it and want to do anything possible to stop it. Talk to those kids waving the bandera, and their culture is wholly American, from their language to fashion stylings to music, upbringing—their everything. But when you have morons calling their parents and elder relatives rapists and murderers, and call young Mexican-Americans unworthy of the U.S. and want 11 million undocumented folks deported, wrapping themselves in the Mexican flag is a righteous chinga tu madre to the white supremacy that wants them gone (and, yes, Virginia: Trump-supporting minorities can subscribe to white supremacy, too—know your decolonial imaginary!). 

Waving the Mexican flag during rallies isn’t sedition; it’s a bold affirmation that aquí estamos, y no nos vamos—this generation’s “We Shall Not Be Moved,” except it rhymes. And it’s a reminder that Mexicans simultaneously fully conform and buck American immigration trends. Notice how the red-white-and-green only pops up during times of protests or celebration, when we’re expected to “act” Mexican; during the rest of the year, the Mexican flag is mostly out of sight, out of mind as Mexicans seamlessly return to the trappings of American life until the next protest. . Besides, what else are these young people supposed to wave at this point? They could wear the Stars and Stripes, even the Gadsden (“Don’t Tread on Me”) flag, and it wouldn’t change the hearts and minds of the true haters—so might as well unfurl the Aztec eagle to antagonize them more, you know?
And waving the Mexican flag doesn’t ruin la causa or push more people into the Trump camp—far from it. For decades, there has been a push-and-pull between the accommodationist segment of the Latino community and the radicals. The former’s mantra—slow and steady and Democrat—rarely gets anything accomplished beyond getting centrists elected and former Mechistas in cabinet positions. The best example of this happened during last decade’s DREAMer years, when undocumented college students were asked to basically serve as photo props for so-called Latino leaders. Those DREAMers eventually started launching direct actions against vendidas like Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, who infamously didn’t put her name to a congressional bill supporting the DREAM Act until two undocumented activists lost their lives. It’s radical pushes like that, and brandishing the flag of a foreign nation, that’s the needed fuel for activist fire in the face of conservative lunatics and liberal wusses. Scaring away the middle? Anyone so easily swayed by the choice of a piece of cloth that they’ll wish a Trump on this country ain’t an ally you want.

Hey, I’d love to see young activists use more American flags, if only because the photo ops are so awesome. One of my all-time favorite photos I’ve ever taken is the one to the right, from the 2006 amnesty marches in downtown SanTana—all that’s missing is a fife player. There were some Mexican flags then, but the Plaza of the Flags in the Civic Center was awash in white T-shirts and American flags, a strategy to turn the unconvinced toward the cause of amnesty. That went nowhere, and the Plaza is now filled with homeless people—a fine metaphor for how much the American public ultimately cared for the Mexican model-minority act.

But that’s the best part about waving the Mexican flag at rallies: we can, because—to paraphrase Mexico’s favorite philosopher, Morrissey—we’ve got Mexican blood and an American heart. We ain’t no fifth column, folks: we’re the pinche foundation that represents the last, best hope against the Trump monster. And we’re ready to let our freak—and Mexican, and American, and Bob Marley—flags fly.

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